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Subaru out of the woods

Scaling the heights: Subaru's Forester is the most popular compact SUV.

Forester chops down rivals in compact SUV class

General News logo11 May 2009

A LOOK at the sales charts for small SUVs in Australia makes fascinating reading, with Subaru now the sole brand – with the one-year-old Forester – to consistently lead this segment.

Only a few years ago, it was a battleground between Subaru, Toyota (RAV4), Nissan (X-Trail) and Honda (CR-V).

These stalwarts of the segment are still prominent, but they appear to be gradually converging at what can be seen as a respectful distance behind the segment leader.

The Forester has been the best-selling compact SUV every month bar one in the past 12 months – basically since the new model was launched in February 2008.

The Subaru SUV stands alone as the only model to pass the 1000-sales mark every month. It has been beaten only once, by the RAV4 in December.

When the smaller Outback – also in this segment – is taken into account, Subaru has so far sold slightly more compact SUVs than it did in the first four months of 2008.

 center imageFrom top: Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V and Renault Koleos.

That’s impressive, given that overall segment sales are down 15.8 per cent YTD, athough it should be noted that this segment is doing better than the whole market, which is down 20.3 per cent YTD.

Behind the Forester, the spread among the remaining 20-plus model field is evening out.

The RAV4 has been the best of the rest for some time, but it is now under heavy pressure from Hyundai and its Tucson, a not-unfamiliar situation in other parts of the market. The Tucson has a little more artillery in terms of specification variety than the RAV4, thanks to the availability of a 2WD-only spec.

Although it had a big wobble in the third quarter of 2008 and dropped several places, the small South Korean SUV has since recovered to overtake the CR-V and take third place behind the RAV4.

Despite the dogfight happening behind the Forester, one thing is for certain: everyone is watching the latest entrant to this pound, the Volkswagen Tiguan.

The Tiguan is VW’s first attempt in this segment and, while early acceptance was limited by a lack of supply, 11 months after launch it is now jostling with the Nissan, the Mitsubishi and the Honda for fourth place in the segment.

Another new entrant which arrived with great expectations was the Renault Koleos, although it has only managed to achieve about half the French manufacturer’s forecast 150 sales a month, which was considered conservative at September’s launch.

The compact SUVs have been the beneficiaries of the swing away from large sixes as user-choosers look for something that’s useful in leisure time as well.

This has played into Subaru’s hands, according to spokesman David Rowley.

“Although it is larger, the new Forester is not considered too big, according to our research, and we are attracting more female buyers,” he said.

“We also win fleet sales with our five-star crash rating, which is important to the occupational health and safety department.

“But for business buyers, our strong retained value is a big attraction, producing good whole-of-life costs.” Models that did not quite get onto the chart above are the Grand Vitara, which is still punching out more than 300 units a month and Mazda’s CX-7, which is averaging 290.

Perhaps the big surprise is that Kia’s Sportage, one of the few compact SUVs to offer a diesel, can barely make the top 10.

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